Children’s centre closures on the increase

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New Government figures reveal 156 children’s centres closed in 2015, almost double the number which shut the previous year.

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They have been released by the early years minister Caroline Dineage following a parliamentary question from Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who asked how many Sure Start centres in England have closed since 2010.

The figures also show children’s centre closures have continued to rise year-upon-year under the coalition and Conservative Governments. In 2011, 12 closed, 27 the following year and 33 in 2013. In 2014 the number increased to 85, and then 156 last year.

Since 2011, 313 children’s centres have shut.

As of 31 October 2016, there were 3,259 main children’s centres and ‘sites’.

Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley, said, 'It is deeply concerning to learn of more children’s Sure Start centres being closed than previously admitted. The minister should now come to Parliament to explain why this has happened.
 
'Sure start centres are a proven success. They provide families with childcare in addition to being a one-stop-shop for extra support with things like healthcare or securing job opportunities.
 
'This shows how wrong the Conservatives' priorities are. Every Sure Start centre that is lost closes a door on a child's chance to get on in life.
 
'A child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. So early interventions like Sure Start should be the priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will give children the best start in life.
 
'With child poverty set to rise by 50 percent over this Parliament, thousands of families will be affected by these closures.  We will all pay for this failure in years to come.'

The Pre-School Learning Alliance said the figures were ‘very worrying’.

Its chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘Children's centres are a vital source of advice and practical support for families – especially those more disadvantaged families – and so for so many to be disappearing at a time when there is so much Government rhetoric on 'closing the gap' and improving children's life chances seems completely contradictory.

‘Worse still, a growing number of those children's centres that remain open are unable to offer much more than a skeleton service due to lack of adequate funding, meaning that even more vulnerable families are finding it difficult to access the support they need.

‘This is clearly not a sustainable situation and so we urge the Government to set out its – now long overdue – strategy for securing the future of children's centres as a matter of priority.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘Giving children the best start in life and supporting working families with the costs of childcare will help to ensure this is a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. We are investing record amounts in childcare, increasing spending to more than £6 billion by 2019-20.

‘Many councils are merging centres to allow services to be delivered more efficiently. Where they decide to close a children’s centre site, they must demonstrate that the outcomes for children would not be adversely affected and will not compromise the duty to have sufficient children’s centres to meet local need.’

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